CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A special town meeting on Wednesday will determine if the town will continue planning a school district merger with neighboring Stamford, Vt.
The special town meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Clarksburg Elementary School and will include a review of the three possible options, and the recommendation for Option 3 from Public Consulting Group, the merger committee, and school officials.
Option 3 would create one unified school district straddling the Vermont/Massachusetts border and reconfigure the use of the two small-town schools, both of which are currently Grades kindergarten through 8. Stamford School, which also has a preschool, would become an early education center for Grades prekindergarten through 2. Clarksburg would become Grades 3 through 8 to coincide with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing that begins in the third grade.
The other options are to not merge (Option 1) or to keep the schools separate with a shared administration (Option 2). The consulting group and school officials say Option 2 would not provide any significant benefits in costs or academics to either town.
"It brings the two districts together with the same administration but it doesn't address the educational needs of either school and they think it's not really a financial benefit either," Superintendent of School John Franzoni had explained recently to the Board of Selectmen.
Fully merging both schools would increase the numbers in each grade, eliminating the need for combined grades, open up more opportunities for programming, and allow more efficient use of both buildings.
The two communities began down the path toward a groundbreaking merger two years ago. The idea was prompted by Vermont's passage of Act 46, a measure designed to streamline governance and promote shared services between rural districts. Stamford was assigned to the new Southern Valley Unified Union School District with Readsboro and Halifax.
Stamford voted not to join that school union two years ago, preferring to explore a merger with Clarksburg or gaining "isolated" status to go its own way. But school officials believe there is little hope in becoming an isolated school as Vermont's Agency of Education has pushed for consolidations and courts have backed the state's authority.
Vermont has been supportive, so far, of Stamford's decision to look south, matching a grant from Massachusetts that allowed the Interstate Merger Committee to hire Public Consulting Group. Stamford, largely a bedroom community, is strongly connected to North County in culture, employment and education, with the overwhelming majority of its children attending local high schools.
Should voters in Clarksburg decide to continue with the merger, much more work will have to be done before a final vote can take place. There are still legal and academic issues, buildings and maintenance, teacher contracts and pensions, impacts on Northern Berkshire School Union, funding, school choice, and governance to hash out. Plus, it will require acts of two legislatures and Congress.
The merger committee hopes to hire a coordinator with state grant funding to help guide the process further along.
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